Blue Like Jazz- Don Miller

The past few years has signaled another shift within the paradigm of what is known as ‘evangelical Christianity’. The ever-changing entity of evangelical Christianity has seen almost daily changes within the extremes. One end you have the militant fundamentalists who preach exclusivity and elitism. On the other extreme you have an almost Unitarian seeker sensitive movement. This movement’s mission is to attract the ‘lost’ by any means possible and its greatest fear is condemning or alienating the sinner. As a reaction to both extremes has come the movement known as the emerging church.
The emerging church is not so much a collection of churches, but a group of people with a mindset to correct what they see are the biggest problems facing evangelical Christianity today. Namely, those problems include hypocrisy, legalism, elitism, and to a certain degree, what I call ‘condmenationism’. These group of men, led by thinkers such as Brian McLaren, Dallas Willard, Dan Kimball, Doug Pagitt, Spencer Burke, and Erwin McManus among many others. The emerging church belief is that the church is stuck in ‘modernity’ and must adjust the culture, namely post-modernity. They focus their teachings on narratives rather than systematic theology. It has been said that trying to define the emerging church is like trying to nail Jello to the wall. The moment you think you can define it, it shifts and is something else. The movement does not hold to a singular belief when it comes to ‘ecclesiology’ or ‘doctrinal statements’. If you go onto a website, you will be hard pressed to find any doctrinal statement. That is because their desire is to not get caught up in those things, but to concentrate on the person of Christ and the body of believers.
The main ecclesiological belief of the emerging church is strip everything away that may cause a block to reach our culture. This has led to an almost complete desertion of anything that is known as a modern Christian tradition and turning to a more ‘medieval’ setting for worship, a setting where everything is stripped away. There is a large emphasis on community and what your ‘journey of faith’ is.
I say all of this so that we may better understand the perspective of the author, Donald Miller. Donald Miller was raised in a ‘christian’ home, raised in a Church setting. As Miller grew up he grew to question many of the things that were fed to him and question the ways and thoughts of what knew Christianity to be. He did not like the way that Christians saw themselves as being elite or better than sinners. He did not like the way that they shunned ‘tough questions’ and the way they treated sinners. He says that they told him of the evil world that is out there and the preachers spoke of the overwhelming evil of everything within the world. He chafed against the idea that Christianity = Republican and that liberal = sinner damned to Hell.
When Miller got out on his own, he found a world that he did not know existed. He surrounded himself with these influences, from liberals to pot smoking hippies and found that many of them had soft hearts and cared more than many of the ‘Christians’ he grew up around. He found that they were better examples of love and learned much of what he knows about human nature by surrounding himself with these people.
This is mostly what the book is about. The subtitle to “Blue Like Jazz” is ‘Nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality’. What exactly that means is not 100% clear, but that is a very ‘emergent’ statement to make. Miller chooses to approach spirituality from a non-religious perspective. He speaks more of learning principles from ‘the world’ than he does from the church or the Bible. In fact, there is not a single scripture reference within the entire book.
One of the most interesting things is that Miller seems to come to multiple conclusions by watching these unsaved people live rather than discovering that the Bible teaches that exact idea. An example is when Miller went and lived in the woods for a month and lived with pot smoking, love making hippies. He said that it is there that he realized about being genuinely caring about someone. He also recounts times when he was at Reed College, a famous bastion of liberal education, that he learned more about people there and interacting and true love and care than he did in the church.
A frustration that I had through the book was trying to figure out when Miller was saved and when he wasn’t. He admits that he wasn’t saved when he was growing up and really went through a ‘journey’ in finding what faith really was. The book isn’t presented in a chronological order, but more a grouping of ideas with illustrations from his life. The problem comes when he speaks of smoking out with guys, partying, and cussing and you aren’t sure if he’s saying that was before he was saved. Miller’s reaction to this complaint would be that he was describing his ‘spiritual journey’. Miller would say it isn’t about a time of coming to faith, but the journey you take getting there. This is has obvious implications. We aren’t to try to distinguish between those that do or do not know Christ, but just admire that they are all just on their own individual journeys to God.
Just like the emergent church movement, Miller makes many good observations. I agree with many of his complaints with evangelical Christianity. I agree that Christianity does not equal being a Republican. I agree that there are a lot of judgment problems and elitism problems in evangelical Christianity. Yes, hypocrisy is a huge issue in the church, and people have forgotten to be genuine with their faith. But the problem is the conclusion he makes with those observations. It is like throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Probably the most telling example of this in Miller’s book is his testimony of working at a Christian camp for the summer at the beginning of chapter 7. He calls this time in his life the ‘self-righteous apex’. He surrounded himself with these friends, and he says, “We would fast all the time, pray together twice each day, memorize Scripture, pat each other on the back and that sort of thing.” Miller says that these exercises bore a pride that he grew to detest. Miller speaks of moving on from that summer and slowly surrendering many of the commitments he had made.
The problem is that he saw the pride and self-righteousness that came out of that group and automatically equates those things with the poor attitude that followed. The issue is that this conclusion is ignoring the whole of Scripture, where it warns that knowledge puffs up. It doesn’t mean that these things are wrong, just that they were pursued in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. The conclusion isn’t to just throw these things out, but to hold to the whole counsel of Scripture and let that change your heart. He decides to throw the baby out with the bath water instead of doing things the right way. Because he saw exegesis and spending as much time in Scripture leading to this attitude, he’d rather see these things abandoned. In his mind, studying the Greek language is equated with legalism.
Miller has many good ideas but takes them in dangerous directions and creates dangerous implications. This sort of attitude has led men like Brian McLaren to suggest things like ‘having a five year moratorium on homosexuality’ mostly because its too divisive. This movement encourages people to question everything that Christianity has concluded for the past couple hundred years. While there is great value in approaching the Word of God with pure eyes and not letting systematic theology and church history interfere with your exegesis, this idea creates a dangerous suspicion of theology and a dangerous new hermeneutic. The Word of God is given the back seat in favor or personal pursuits and the experience of the body of Christ. Miller himself admits many times about coming to conclusions and taking part in these pursuits and not opening his Bible.
I found myself often getting frustrated because it just seems that Donald Miller just had a bad church experience growing up. I began to realize that I have been very blessed with godly, biblically based churches. I realize that this hypocrisy and legalism is a large problem, but does not call for the changes that the emergent church and Don Miller calls for. The challenge is for each Christian to personally approach the Word of God with a humble heart and to live with the fear of the Lord. Miller makes many good observations, but fails in making wise conclusions.

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Anything For MY Child

I was reading some comments yesterday concerning the last two episodes of LOST (putting off studying for a final quiz 😉 and was amazed to see how many parents said they would do “anything” for their children…including murdering innocent people!! That’s scary! While I would certainly defend and protect my children, it’s sick to think of murdering some innocent bystander. Think this through logically…if it’s OK to kill an innocent person for the sake of my child, then what is wrong with someone else killing MY innocent child, for the sake of THEIR child?

I suspect this is one effect of our increasingly child-centered society. Somewhere children became the focus (the be-all) of family and community life…instead of being just a PART of family and community life. I was impressed by a series in the “Baby Blues” comic strip last week. Each day had two panels labeled “Then” and “Now”. For example, one day had a “Then” picture of a father handing his son a bat and ball and saying, “Go out and play ball, son.” “Now” had a picture of parents telling their son they had signed him up for T-Ball, as well as private coaching lessons.

Another day, “Then” had a picture of a Mom patching up her child, who had fallen out of a tree, and saying, “I guess you won’t try that again!” “Now” had a picture of a Mom calling her lawyer in order to sue the landowner and her Senator to push for legislation making trees safer.

I suspect this change in parental focus has occurred for multiple reasons, things such as increased disposable income, loss of a sense of “neighborhood”, increased dangers in just sending your child out to play without your direct supervision, a desire to live your life through your children, guilt because of the decreasing amount of time working parents can spend with their children, competition for a child’s affections between divorced parents, peer pressure/competition to “keep up with the Joneses”, a buy-in to the psychological hoopla about “you can be anything you want to be” (not true…I may want to be a concert pianist or an astrophysicist, but I don’t have the ability or intelligence for either. One of the best lines from “Pride and Prejudice”: Lady Catherine says, “If I had played the piano, I would have been a great proficient.” 😉 … Any other ideas?

Another Busy Weekend

This past week has just been a crazy week for me. Last weekend we had our Jr High Lock-In, followed by my finals week, followed by Guy/Girl Retreats this weekend. The guys went up into the mountains and camped for the night and the girls drove out to Riverside to do girl stuff. On the way up the mountain, my car decided to eject its transmission fluid at an alarming rate, creating a wall of smoke behind my car. My friend Conor went down to get me more fluid thinking that might help. So we added a pint and got about five more miles before we pulled over and it was just pouring out the bottom. So we pooled the guys to the camp site, and Conor and i got it towed back down and I drove the church van up the mountain. Why we didn’t just take that to begin with, I don’t know.

So you could all pray that we take care of this car situation. I may have to drop my summer class, as I will not be able to get out there for it. It starts Tuesday so unless something is done soon, it isn’t looking good. So the prayer is, “God, your car broke down. Time for another one.” We had been looking into getting a new (new to us, that is) car, but couldn’t afford it and were hoping to make it through seminary on this one.

But this didn’t completely dampen the guys trip. We enjoyed wrestling, throwing rocks, eating meat, playing with fire, and talking about what it means to be a man biblically. We had a real good group of guys and it was a good time to allow them all to continue to bond and grow into a tightly knit group. Pray that God would use these guys to step up into leadership and make a difference in this valley for the Gospel.

Leah hasn’t gotten back yet, so I’ll be sure to post what happened with the girls!

The Ills of Self-isms

I decided it would be profitable to write down some of the excerpts from some of the messages given at the “Together For the Gospel” conference last week. The first one that I’m going to share was from Al Mohler’s message. Now Mohler in the last two years has become one of my heroes of the modern faith. Like Dever has said multiple times, “I’m glad he’s on our side. We usually don’t get guys like him.” He is very adept at discerning where the culture is and what we are to make of it. While he doesn’t exactly study the culture, he’s excellent at applying biblical principles in deciding how we are to react to movements and shifting thoughts.

He gave a message on how to preach to our culture and was saying it is difficult to define because it is always changing and forming into something else at a great pace. He ended his message with a list of ‘self-isms’ that people in our culture deal with and hold to and we should have in mind when we are preaching the gospel. here they are:

1. Self-Fulfillment- this is a radical individualism and a quest for the true self. Everything is viewed as it affects the self. It is normal to think that self is the center to everything. This really affects the logic of the cross because people don’t see that the problem lies within themselves. They see the problem as being an alien problem calling for an internal solution. The reality is that it is an internal problem calling for an alien solution. People see the problem are things that have happened to them, not things that they have done.

2. Self-Sufficiency- man possesses everything within him that is necessary. But the gospel isn’t about depending on one’s self, but realizing that self can’t get you anywhere.

3. Self-Definition- we have teh ability to define ourselves, how we are man and woman, what marriage is, gender, sexuality, authority, etc. Man is controlling his own evolution and can redefine what it means to be human.

4. Self-Enhancement- extending life as long as possible, making the human body into art. man is coming up with so many ways to reach the perfect state of looks and condition, and that is where their concentration is.

5. Self-Transcendence- hearing our presentation of the gospel as another spirituality. That it is just another belief that will do well for us to believe, but not the only ‘truth’. The emphasis is on beliefs rather than truth. Mohler said that it is here that we need to be clear about the mono in monotheism. And I don’t know he transitioned into it, but it is here that he stated what may have been the line of the conference: “in the Bible, “When you see an angel, you wet your pants! They say, “don’t die! We bring good tidings.”

6. Self-Security- we believe that we are safe because of a military or hospitals, financially, spiritually. This makes the gospel difficult to understand because there is no impending danger that they can see.

Thought that these might be of interest to you all. I know they were very insightful for me.

Immigration Protests

So they decided to have the protests and no one is going to work, going to buy anything, and all that stuff. Well, I woke up this morning and was watching the news and the traffic was amazing! How do we fix the traffic? Have these boycots everyday. One traffic person said, “What?! Is no one going to work?!” Apparently they didn’t get the memo. Now people are really excited about what things could be like if the roads were more clear…. is this accomplishing what they wanted it to?

Roles in the Church, Revisited

Quite some time ago someone (Ian? Russ? Jason?) posted an essay based on a passage in 1 Corinthians that generated more heat than light. The author was offensive in his presentation, lacking the requisite “gentleness and meekness”, but we tried to look at the meat of his assertion, rather than his offensive presentation. I think we discussed 1Cor.15:34-35. I remember my point was if you want to determine proper roles in the church it would be better to look at an epistle that specifically deals with laying them out, such as Titus and 1Timothy. Since the Corinthian church had such a variety of problems, and since Paul was answering questions they had apparently asked him (but which WE don’t get to see), I felt that context could have a huge impact on the application of any particular verse in Corinthians. I thought it would be preferrable to go to a clearly didactic passage. (I remember Russ being concerned that I was discounting a portion of Scripture, that all Scripture is of God. I wasn’t contending otherwise, but I WAS trying to point out the importance of getting the context straight.)

Anyway…in learning Greek, I have discovered a use of the Present Tense that applies to this original issue (the place of women in the church) quite well…and guess what? It’s NOT in Corinthians and it IS in 1Timothy! [no, I’m not sticking out my tongue and saying “nyah, nyah, nyah…”…OK, maybe a little ;)] It’s called the “Gnomic Present”. (Tim and John, please correct me if I’m wrong here.)The Gnomic Present is used for Proverbial statements and maxims, representing timeless facts. Usually the Subject and/or Direct Object of the sentence is generic. It appears to me that 1Tim.2:12 [“I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man.”] would be a Gnomic Present Tense, i.e. stating a maxim, a truism that is true any time. It’s Present Tense, has a generic Direct Object (“a woman”) and is rooted in Creation (2:13)and is connected to (2:12) by “For”, indicating the Reason behind (2:12). So this appears to me to be a general maxim, NOT a specific, temporary situation such as MIGHT apply in Corinthians.

My Greek text (Wallace) states that “The normal use of the present tense in didactic [i.e. “teaching”, “instructive”] literature, especially when introducing an exhortation, is not descriptive, but a general precept that has gnomic implications.” This is interesting stuff! Keep that definition in mind and take a look at Rom.6:11, 12, 13; 12:2, 14 and 13:1 just to see some examples of this in Romans.